SUGARLOAF HISTORICAL SOCIETY
REMINISCENCES OF AN EARLY RAILROADER
" The following is a true sketch of the first steam railroading in this section. Every incident is true and as fresh in my memory as though it took place but two months ago. I have not attempted any uniformity in the make-up of my story. I have written it as the incidents came to my mind. -- Alfred R. Longshore, July 1903."
I have recently read an article attributed to the late Stephen Meixell. It is the story of primitive railroading in this section and I read it with much interest, as it took me back to my youth and the part I tools in those incidents of days folly past. I knew Stephen Meixell for many years. We were both born in Salem Township, Luzerne County, but 1 first became acquainted with him after he located in Beaver Meadow.
Wooden rails were used in the building of the early railroads. The ties were notched for the rails to slip in; the inside of the notch was beveled to drive in a wedge and keep the rail in its place. I have helped build railroads and know just how it was done. In a few places there were straps of iron on tile rails. The iron was spiked to the rails as fast as they were put in place. Where there were soft places in the ties the weight of the locomotive passing`, over these places would press the iron into the wood, where there were hard places, or knots that would resist the pressure, bumps would result. Consequently the engine and cars would bob up and down. The strap iron used was a half-inch thick and two inches wide.
The road described in the Mexell article was a branch road of the Hazleton road from Hazle Creek bridge and none but Hazle coal was shipped over it. That branch was put in to avoid the heavy grade from Hazle Creek bridge to Penn Haven. The Beaver Meadow coal was run down on the south side of the old plane until the road was changed to intersect the Hazleton road at Hazle Creek bridge, when the old plane was abandoned. That is still the route today. In 1862 when the great flood on the Lehigh washed out the dams and locks from White Haven to Mauch Chunk the track was obliterated. At the same time the Beaver Meadow road from Mauch Chunk to Parryville was completely ruined. The company shortened their line to Mauch Chunk and shipped the coal from there until the Lehigh Valley connected their road with the Beaver Meadow road. The Hazleton Company also shipped their coal from there.
Beaver Meadow has never to my knowledge, been "literally alive with beavers." I have been acquainted with this region since 1831 and I have never seen a beaver or a sign of one. There is a tradition that many years ago signs of beaver dams were discovered along the creek, but I have never heard the names of the parties who are supposed to have made the discovery, and it seems the name "Beaver Swamp" was derived from that discovery. It continued by the name of Beaver Swamp until the Beaver Meadow Company was formed. This, however, was not in the 17th century, as the Meixell article stated. Steve Meixell was a first class engineer and an honorable man, respected by everybody who knew him.
I will give a resume of my experiences as a railroader, Meixell commenced firing for Abner Houston in 1844. Houston was one of the very best engineers on the road and a tip-top fellow. I commenced as brakeman in 1836, at the very commencement of railroading in this section. Therefore, I claim to be the oldest railroader in eastern Pennsylvania, if not the oldest in the state. In the summer prior to the completion of the Beaver Meadow road I was here in Hazleton with the engineer corps, under Messrs. Pardee and Fell. We were locating the road to Weatherly. Before coming here I had the promise of a position on the road from the officials of the Beaver Meadow Company. I remained with the engineers until the Hazleton road was located and some of the contractors had commenced grading.
A few days before the first of November 1836, I remember, two locomotives were put on the road for the first at Parryville, the end of the road at that time. A party drove down on a truck to the water station, just below the old Penn Haven Junction, to meet them.
We waited there two or three hours before the locomotives made their appearance. I had never seen a locomotive before, not even a picture of one, and my curiosity was worked up to its highest pitch. I could not imagine how the steam was applied to turn the wheels. My eyes were probably wide with curiosity as the locomotives came around the curve. I soon saw how they worked. I may say they were miniatures compared with the present day locomotives. They had only two "drivers" and a truck; built by the firm of Garrett and Eastwick, in Philadelphia. The one locomotive was run by Eastwick, a member of the firm, the other by Hopkin Thomas, their foreman. One was named "Samuel D. lngham" for the president of the company, the other "Weatherell" for one of the directors.
I will digress a little here. Weatherly was named for Weatherell. Ingham and Weatherell were the owners of the land and they induced the company to buy the land from them. The special inducement was water power to run the shops, as this would be more economical than using steam. Consequently, the shops were moved from Beaver Meadow. They made a nice profit, but it was the death blow from which Beaver Meadow never recovered. The experiment was a failure. When the new shops were built they abandoned water power and used steam.
The locomotives took in water at the station where we were waiting. The rear engine took our truck to Weatherly or Black Creek as it was then called. There was not a house there at the time and not any of the land was cleared, except what was necessary for the road and sidings.
When we arrived there Eastwick discovered that the water was low in the boiler, so he started down the grade to pump. There was no brake on the tender; the engine started to travel pretty fast; an attempt was made to reverse the steam and it was discovered there was none to reverse. About half way to Penn Haven there was a level spot for a short distance. The fireman took the poker, leaned over the railing and thrust it through the spokes of the driving wheel. The locomotive stopped just on the brink of another grade. It took five mules to haul it up the grade to the planes.
We all left in the evening for Beaver Meadow, except the two engineers, William Gordon and Thomas Evans, who were to get everything in readiness for the first run on Monday morning. The company had built a house at the head of the first plane for the use of the men working on the road.
The next day the company had a celebration and banquet at Wilson's Hotel, Beaver Meadow. The officials, contractors and others took part. Several baskets of champagne were consumed.
On Saturday, two trains of sixteen three-ton cars each were hauled by mule power to the head of tile plane and let down to be in readiness for the start on Monday morning. The officials and their guests rode on trucks with the crews. I was one of the brakemen.
On Monday morning when everything was in readiness and the steam up, we soon glided down the grade. Everything went smoothly until just below Lehighton when the water in Eastwick's engine got too low and burned out the tubes. Eastwick's train being in the lead, Thomas had to push it to Parryville. The disabled engine was run into the roundhouse and it was two or three months before it was repaired. It was then taken above the planes and run from the mines to tile head of the planes. The empty cars were hauled back up the plane by mules. There was a special car to carry the mules on the downward trip. The crew of the engine was William Gordon, engineer; John Edwards, fireman; Fred Rustee, Jacob Derr and myself. We were required to make two trips day.
William Tubbs lived in a house on a small point between the Lehigh and the creek. We took our dinners and suppers there. We had to bunk in a shanty that the engineers built while locating the road. Our day started at 4 o'clock in the morning and two hours later when the steam was up we were ready for the start to Parryville. We could make the trip down very easily, but on the return trip sixteen cars were too much for the engine and we had to stop several times to act up steam. We used hemlock wood and frequently had to use water from the Lehigh whenthe boilers were nearly empty. When we stopped, the draft was shut off and the fire died out. Then we had to climb around on the mountains to gather pine knots for kindling.
The first winter was open. If two or three inches of snow fell, we fastened two husk brooms to the frame of the engine to clear the tracks. There was a great deal of cold freezing weather. The hail came with such force that it almost blinded us, as there was no shelter of any sort on the train. When the storms were too severe we crawled under the rocks along the right of way.
Another thing we had to contend with were the sparks from the engine. The wood made sparks at night that fairly lighted up the heavens. They were the only lights we had on the train with the exception of lanterns. The sparks lit on our clothes and literally burned them up. On one trip the entire crown was burned out of a fur cap I was wearing. The next day when we reached Parryville I bought a wool cap hoping that the sparks would not stick to it. It was no time, however, until it was full of holes. When oilcloth coats first came out we each bought one, thinking they would shed sparks, but very soon the coats shed neither sparks nor water.
Despite all this we had some good times. When our run was over in good time, we sat on old wooden boxes around the stove in our bunkhouse, the while smoking our pipes. Engineer Gordon was a jovial fellow and told good and amusing stories. Fireman Edwards was a good talker. Fred Rustee was the life of the crew. Jake Derr was on the more quiet order yet he sometimes got off some droll speeches. I do not remember any disputes. There was no drinking or profane language.
In consideration for the long shift, which sometimes lasted as long as sixteen to eighteen hours, we received as daily salaries: engineers, $2.00; firemen, $1.50 and brakemen $1.00. There was not much left on paydays after we had paid our board and replaced our burned-up clothes. After two months work we applied for an increase, but President Ingham refused to grant it saying he thought the wages were ample.
In the spring, I resigned and fireman Edwards followed soon afterwards. He went West and I have never since heard of him. Jake Derr left the railroad, married, and started farming in Quakake Valley. He was later killed at a crossing in Weatherly. Engineer Gordon died about two years after I left. He contracted consumption through exposure on the road. Fred Rustee stuck to railroading and served the Lehigh Valley for thirty-six years.
In the thirties, wolves and deer were especially plentiful. It was not unusual to see herds of deer feeding on the hills, almost within gunshot. At that time we could hear the wolves howling around the houses at night. There were also bears, wild cats and panthers.
Railroads did not progress very rapidly from 1836 to 1866. The old stagecoaches still held sway. The Mauch Chunk and Berwick stage reached here about eight or nine o'clock and Berwick about noon. It waited in Berwick until two o'clock the following morning and then continued on to Wilkes-Barre, which was reached at about seven in the morning. This service continued until 1849 when Horton of Wilkes Barre put on a line of stages from Wilkes-Barre to the summit on the Catawissa railroad. They made a trip each day, which was quite an improvement as well as a great convenience. This was followed in 1864 or 1865 by the continuance of the railroad from White Haven to Mauch Chunk by the Lehigh and Susquehanna Company. We were then able to go to Wilkes-Barre one day and return the next.
It used to take two days and a night to go to Philadelphia. I remember the first man who came through from Philadelphia to Beaver Meadow in one day. He left tile city at five o'clock in the morning; got off the train at Port Clinton; took the stage to Tamaqua, where he hired a horse and drove to Beaver Meadow, arriving a little after dark. On the day of his arrival I went to the Wilson Hotel after supper and Mr. Wilson told me "there is a gentleman in the dining room who came through from Philadelphia today." We were all anxious to see the man who performed so great a feat.
Alfred Righter Longshore, the son of Lieutenant Isaiah and Ann Folwell (Wilson) Longshore, was born April 27, 1822 and died January 11, 1904. He was twice married: (1) to Louise Sylvester (sic 1826-1858); (2) to Amanda, daughter of William and Mahala (Williams) Adams, born August 17, 1831, died April 9, 1907. His children were: William Coleridge Longshore, who died in 1889; Anne, the wife of Reverend William W. I Taylor, of Bridgeport, Pa.; Louise, the wife of L. G. Lubrecht; and Miss Katherine Longshore of this city.
Following his employment with the railroad Mr. Longshore became a contractor and lumber merchant. He served as Justice of the Peace was thrice elected Burgess of Hazleton.